Co-founder of Renewal Mill
Established: 2016 | Number of employees: 4
Instagram: @renewalmill // Facebook: facebook.com/RenewalMill // Twitter: @renewalmill // Linkedin: linkedin.com/company/renewal-mill
“Renewal Mill is an upcycled food company that fights climate change and global food loss by upcycling byproducts from food manufacturing into superfood ingredients and premium, plant-based pantry staples.”
Why did you and your co-founder, Claire Schlemme, decide to start Renewal Mill?
Claire had started an organic juice company in Boston where she used all local, organically grown produce. She realized pretty soon that all that pulp meant a lot of food waste, and she didn’t want to just throw it away. So she started learning about ways to capture nutrition from what was previously being thrown away and keeping it in the supply chain.
My background is in nutrition, though I eventually pivoted to working in tech working on women’s diversity issues in the industry. I met Claire when I was working at the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator and she was working on developing Renewal Mill. We were actually suitemates in a 12-person canoe activity and we got to chatting about the food system and how we need to tread more lightly on the planet. I ended up leaving my job to join her and help raise our first round of capital.
What’s your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
It’s important to think about things like culture and sustainability early on. A lot of people think those are things that evolve as you grow, but if you put in a lot of upfront effort, you’ll reap the rewards. Be thoughtful about how you’re structuring your organization even if you’re only two or three people at the time. Build the company you want to work at from the start so you don’t have to backtrack later.
What has been your most impactful interaction with ICA and why?
Our mentor, Rob Hurlbut, who is the Managing Director of Agriculture Capital, was so helpful as we navigated the early stages of private label deals and working with some of the largest grocery retailers in the country. It was through The Accelerator we got to know the programs team and investment team. And those interactions with them—with Willis and Yui especially—have been instrumental.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself as an entrepreneur?
I have a tendency to just go, go, go all the time, as fast as possible. And Claire is really good at pulling back and saying, “OK, but what can we do with less?” She’s taught me a lot about prototyping on your own before going out to get external help. I appreciate the duality of our instincts and the process of finding a middle ground.
The other thing is the importance of relationship building and the importance of following up. We’re currently closing sales that have taken three years to develop, so I can’t overstate the importance of those things.